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How to check if a car has been stolen

42,592 passenger cars and light commercial vehicles were stolen in Australia last year, according to the NMVTRC.

It’s tempting to believe that clever technology can outsmart thick-headed criminals these days, but that’s only partly true, at least when it comes to car theft.

You might think the advent of immobilisers has made car thieves virtually redundant, but the shocking fact is that some 42,592 passenger cars and light commercial vehicles were stolen in Australia last year, according to the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council

Even more alarmingly, almost 80 per cent of the cars stolen had an immobiliser fitted, which just goes to show that crooks aren’t that thick after all (and just think how little they’re paying in tax on their ill-gotten gains).

The good news is that those figures are down 7.1 per cent on 2016, and that most of the cars taken are of a slightly older vintage, which means that tech might actually be starting to get ahead of the fast-fingered filchers. (Car thefts have actually fallen since 2001, when immobilisers became mandatory in all new cars sold). 

Three out of every five cars stolen were value at less than $5000, while cars valued at $50K plus accounted for just one in 50 thefts. This would seem to indicate that the nicer your car is, the harder it is to steal.

If you’ve got a Holden Commodore, however - the most stolen vehicles in 2017 - you should be nervous.

What this all means, of course, is that while we might think it’s a problem of the past, buying a car and then finding out that it’s actually stolen is something we still need to be wary of today. 

How to check if a car is stolen

You might recall that checking whether the car you’re considering buying has been stolen is as simple as doing a REVS check, but apparently it was too simple. That’s why it’s now called a PPSR check - meaning you’re investigating the ownership using the Personal Property Securities Register, run by the Australian Financial Security Authority

For an absolute bargain of $3.40 (when you consider how much it’s potentially saving you), you can conduct a Quick Motor Vehicle Search, either online or though the Assisted Phone Service of the PPSR. 
The search will provide both on-screen results and an emailed copy of the search certificate.

Why should I check if a vehicle is stolen?

If a security interest is registered against a vehicle, and particularly if it’s been stolen, and you buy it, then it may be repossessed, even after you have bought it. 

The finance company listed on the PPSR may well turn up on your doorstep and take the car away, and you may then be left to pursue the car thief for the money you have lost. And good luck with that.

When should I conduct a PPSR check?

You should search the PPSR on the day you are buying the vehicle, or the day before, to ensure that it is not stolen, free from debt, safe from repossession and not reported a write-off (link to other CarsGuide story on this).

If you’ve conducted your PPSR search and you buy the car that day, or the next, then you are, legally and wonderfully, protected from any encumbrances, and will have the search certificate to prove it.

Even better, as a national system, it doesn’t matter which state you’re buying the car in, or which states it’s perviously been owned in.

What do I need to conduct a stolen vehicle check?

All you need, besides a phone and/or a computer, is your potential car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), your credit or debit card and your email address.

A stolen VIN check is a foolproof way to check on your car’s history, effectively by checking the stolen car database. You’re also checking whether you’re dealing with a case of stolen vehicle registration, i.e. rebirthing.

How do I find my stolen car?

If your car has been stolen, and you want to know how to report a stolen vehicle, what your’e dealing with is beyond, or perhaps in front of, a PPSR check. You should contact the police immediately, and make a report.

Find your stolen car is the job of the police, and it can often be a tough one.

What to do if you find a vehicle that has been stolen?

If your PPSR check reveals that the car you’re looking at buying is a stolen vehicle, you should inform the PPSR office first. Or, you could just call the police. The person who’s attempting to sell you the car, of course, may not even know themselves that it’s stolen. Or they might be a nasty criminal car thief.

Top 10 most stolen cars

The bad news is, if you own a Holden Commodore, of just about any vintage, you should probably pop your head out the window right now and check that it’s still there.

Not only was the 2006 VE Commodore the most stolen vehicle in the country in 2017 - with 918 examples nicked - but older versions of the same car also came in at 5th (VY 2002-2004)), sixth (VY 1997-2000), seventh (VX 2000-2002) and eighth (VZ 2004-2006) in the stolen cars list.

The second most popular car for thieves in this country is the Nissan Pulsar (it was number one back in 2016, but we must be running out of examples to steal, with thefts dropping from 1062 to 747), followed by the Toyota HiLux (2005-2011) and the BA Ford Falcon (2002-2005). 

The Nissan Navara D40 (2005-2015) just sneaks into the top 10, which is rounded out by a model modern version of the HiLux (2012-2015).

​Have you ever had your car stolen? Let us know in the comments.